Evaluating the Impact of Puzzle-based Learning on Creativity, Engagement and Intuition of STEM Tertiary Students
Klymchuk, S; Evans, T; Murphy, P; Novak, J; Stephens, J; Thomas, M
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CONTEXT In recent years, some universities in Australia, Europe and the USA, have introduced formal academic courses or seminars for their first-year STEM students based on a Puzzle-Based Learning (PzBL) pedagogical strategy introduced in Michalewicz and Michalewicz (2008). The feedback reported in several pilot studies was positive and primarily based on students’ and lecturers’ attitudes and perceptions. It indicated that PzBL could potentially increase students’ engagement and enhance their creativity, general problem-solving skills and lateral thinking “outside the box”. This paper attempts to evaluate those claims by rigorously measuring the impact of the PzBL. PURPOSE OR GOAL To select the best from the best, many high-tech companies often use puzzles at their job interviews. They believe that the ability to solve puzzles relates to the creative thinking needed for solving innovative real life problems. Our study investigated the impact on creativity, engagement and intuition of STEM students of a relatively short (one semester), but regular (weekly), PzBL intervention in lectures at four tertiary institutions in New Zealand. METHODOLOGY/METHODS This study was conducted as part of a mixed-methods design research project over 2018-2020. Several different types of instruments were used to gather data: comprehensive student pre- and post-test questionnaires, a content validation survey for the questionnaires, student focus group interviews, a lecturer questionnaire, and class observations. All statistical analyses, including Chi-square tests, t-tests, Friedman tests, parametric tests and Repeated Measures ANOVAs, were conducted IBM SPSS version 23. ACTUAL OUTCOMES The main findings are as follows. Students’ behavioural engagement was significantly greater during the intervention. Perceptions of the utility value of PzBL activity improved at the end of the semester for all students. There were no significant changes in students’ convergent thinking (problem-solving), intuition or creativity (originality, fluency and elaboration traits of the divergent thinking) over the intervention. This was probably due to the relatively short timescale of the intervention (around one hour in total over one semester). CONCLUSIONS/RECOMMENDATIONS/SUMMARY The results of this study suggest that with a relatively small effort lecturers can improve STEM student engagement by spending just a few minutes per lecture on PzBL activity during lectures—something that can be easily implemented, even for those who primarily teach using a traditional ‘transmission’ style. Moreover, such an intervention is highly amenable to scaling up with a relatively small development investment.